Dream Not of Love

Sample Tracks available for download

1: Here's a health unto thee bonnie lassie O © . 2 A Faithless Shepherd ©

On this recording George Deacon performs 17 songs taken from John

Clare's manuscripts, all of which are published in John Clare and the Folk Tradition. The majority of the songs in Clare's papers are love songs and they form the theme of this recording. A unique record of the love songs collected and written in one small village during the early years of the 19th-century. Our only documentary evidence of what was sung in East Northamptonshire and a rare opportunity to discover the songs that inspired one of our major poets, John Clare.

As Clare knew only too well the path of true love is beset with many snares. His first love was Mary Joyce from the nearby village of Glinton but her parents stifled their relationship, he being below her degree. By 1820 he had married Martha Turner just two months before she bore their child. He undoubtedly came to love Patty but he never relinquished his first true love. Small wonder then that he should have identified with the lovers in these songs. Whether they were parted by proud parents or bearing children whilst unwed, professing their undying love or wandering forlorn their plight seems to have much in common with Clare's.

Although an accomplished fiddle player Clare felt himself to be incapable of recording the tunes to the songs he collected. We have therefore married his texts to melodies sung to similar words elsewhere or, if none was available, to a tune that seemed appropriate. As in Clare’s time much of the material is performed without accompaniment.

Here's a health unto thee bonnie lassie O: Clare wrote this sometime after 1840, modelling his song on either the traditional The Shearing's Not for You or Thomas Lyle's Kelvingrove. As a song to absent lover we might see this either as a sequel to the traditional song or as a song to Mary Joyce who had died in 1838.

The Week before Easter: When this first appeared in print, as a broadside in the 17th-century, it had the title of The Forlorn Lover;Declaring How a Lass Gave Her Lover Three Slips for a Tester and Married Another the Week before Easter. Clare collected this text from his parents and it is sung here to a melody collected in 1898 from Mr Copper of Rottingdean in Sussex.

A Brisk Young Shepherd: This is a song that Clare's mother sang, one of a family of songs descending from the broadside The Oxfordshire Tragedy it is interesting that Clare should have so radically changed the sentiments of the young unmarried mother in his song when he came to rewrite it. Here her shame is such that she wishes herself dead but her child born and smiling on its daddies knee .

A Faithless Shepherd: Clare’s extended version of the previous song,with its changed emphasis. In this version that child has been born but the young mother, concerned at the lot of a bastard child, wishes that they were both dead and our sorrows both away. It is worth observing here that Clare's father was born out of wedlock giving him a real understanding of the consequences of bastardy. Both texts are sung to a tune collected from Joseph Taylor, at Brigg in Lincolnshire, in 1908.

Mary Neil: An unnamed ploughman was the source for this text which Clare described as an Old Ballad. Though he admits to having made some additions to the text comparison with a broadside version reveals that these were fairly minor alterations. Clare used this is the basis for a poem written in the 1850s the text of which is given in John Clare and the Folk Tradition . The tune used here was sung by a Mrs Russell of Upwey, Dorset for a song entitled The Stealing of Mary Neil.

O Would I were the little Bird: The expression of a wish to be an animal, or as here a Bird, flower and insect, in order to secure one's love is fairly common in folk song though I believe this text to be substantially Clare's own work. Sung to the tune The Loyal Lover collected by Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould.

The True Lovers Farewell: Clare's manuscript says of this song this is an old Ballad which my father sings, he learned it when a child of his mother who knew it when a lass, therefore it cannot be much less than 100 years old . This is under the heading The Origin of Burns Red Red Rose. Clare did however produced a rewritten text of this himself. The melody was collected from Mrs Cranstone, Billingshurst, July 1907,by George Butterworth.

The Constant Sailor's Return : No title is given for this in Clare's manuscripts and I strongly suspect that he wrote the song himself. The theme of lovers parted by war and dramatically reunited is, however, common in the folk tradition where it is frequently accompanied by a test of fidelity and the“broken token” symbol. A not dissimilar song, Claudy Banks , sung by Mr Frederick White of Southampton, provides the melody used here.

O Silly Love: Love renders a 30 year-old maiden incapable of carrying out her work as a domestic servant and disaster follows disaster.Clare described this as an Old Ballad though I feel sure that he wrote it himself. The tune was sung by John Edbrook at Bishops Nympton, North Devon in 1904 for the song The Tinker and collected by Cecil Sharp.

Bushes and Briars (1) : Clare's father, Parker Clare, sang this text of the song, which is fairly commonly encountered in the oral tradition. It is interesting to note how he imposed himself on the song in the third verse,changing the gender of the spurned suitor, despite the fact that this is essentially a song about a lovelorn maiden. The melody is that collected for Bushes and Briars by R. Vaughan Williams in 1903 from Mr Pottipher of Ingrave,Essex.

The Maid of the Hall : Since Clare almost certainly composed the song himself it is tempting to identify the central characters as John Clare and Mary Joyce. However the song is not dissimilar to a 19th-century broadside - The Maid of the Mill - in its structure and rhyme scheme and we might presume some connection. The source for the tune is Mrs Russell of Upwey, Dorset, who sang it in 1907 as the melody for The Cruel Mother.

Dream Not of Love: Both of Clare's parents sang this song though it is in truth no more than a collection of floating stanzas commonly encountered ina variety of songs. Somehow the piling of image on image throughout the song seemed to symbolise the essence of this recording and it came to supply our title. The melody was collected from Mrs Cox, High Ham, Dorset, in 1905 by Cecil Sharp.

The Banks of Inverary : This song was issued as a broadside during the 19th-century and Clare must have either known it or known of it. He gave it the title above noting that the unnamed man from him the collected it knew it as "Banks of Ivory". In 1905 Robert Barrett sang the song in Dorset (Hammond manuscripts) and it is that melody we have used here.

The Winter it is Past :This text, sung by Clare's father follows the pattern of the 19th-century broadside versions - a young girl grieves for her absent lover having been forced to part from him by her rich parents. Though Mary Joyce's parents could not have been described as rich,this song must have struck a chord in Clare's mind - since it was they who forced them to part. The melody is taken from The Scottish Minstrel published in 1824.

Here's A Sad Goodbye :Clare described this as Scraps from my father & mother & compleated. It occurs earlier on this recording in a variant form as the True Lovers Farewell and in comparing the two it is clear to what extent Clare amended the song. What is described as Red Red Rose (Old Set) in the Scots Musical Museum 1787 - 1803 has been used as a tune here.

Bushes and Briars (2): Once again we can compare a song written by Clare with the text that inspired it.The two appear on the same page of his manuscripts without alteration. For John Clare this is still a song about a lovelorn maiden but he has extended the storyline until it almost parallels that of the rejected suitor in The Week Before Easter.

The Maiden's Welcome: Since this song is almost certainly the work of John Clare we might suggest that here is a bit of wishful thinking. Here a girl defies her parents wishes and pledges her love to a shepherd lad. With the material bought for the bridal dress and True Love requited it provides a happy note depend on. The verse structure and rhythm lend themselves beautifully to the tune High Germany the version used here being that collected from Mrs Locke, Muchelny Ham, in 1904 by Cecil Sharp.


The Performers: George Deacon became a full-time folk singer in 1966. In 1987 he completed a PhD on song and social history at the University of Essex. He has written both scripts and music for BBC Radio 4 including Helpston Cracked Pippins - an account of Christmas in Clare’s village. He was commissioned as period music adviser for Bill Douglas's film Comrades about the Tolpuddle Martyrs and has recorded previously: Sweet William's Ghost ( XTRA 1130 ). On this recording he plays his 1930 Martin 0017 guitar and sings.   Isobel plays a 19 th century, three-octave, double-row, portable, collapsible harmonium.  Christine Hodgkinson is a member of the Corelli players and a lecturer in music. On this recording she plays a gut strung baroque violin.


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